Twitter has gone crazy after Chappelle made an insensitive trans joke, but does he deserve to be canceled?
By Riley Mulcahy
Dave Chappelle released a new Netflix special called “The Closer” and Twitter has lost its mind. In it, Chappelle makes a joke about trans people, saying that he is “Team TERF,” which according to The New York Times stands for “trans-exclusionary radical feminist,” which the Times states is a term used for a group of people who argue that one’s gender identity is fixed at birth. In an internal document, Netflix CEO Reed Hastings argues that the debate is over “artistic expression,” however, only time will tell whether or not Netflix is on the right side of history.
The role of comedy in society is controversial. In many respects, comedians telling offensive jokes is what draws adoring fans to see Chris Rock or Amy Schumer or the late Robin Williams. Chappelle’s joke was in poor taste, and there should be a discussion on the language we use when we reference the LGBTQI+ community. Still, the fact that Chappelle could be canceled for one bad joke shows society’s hostile attitude. Where is the outrage when Kim Kardashian, who is not a comedian, hosts SNL and makes a joke about the first Black person she met, telling the audience to take a “stab in the dark” to who it is? For those unfamiliar with the context, Kardashian’s father, Robert Kardashian, was on the defense team and personal friend of OJ Simpson, who was accused of murdering his wife Nicole Brown Simpson and her friend Ron Goldman in 1995.
One of the most ardent Chappelle haters is Jaclyn Moore, who identifies as trans and is the showrunner of the Netflix show “Dear White People.” She has vowed never to work with Netflix again because of the special and the joke in particular. Moore’s boycott is peculiar not because she disagrees with the joke but because she herself has some explaining to do. How can a white showrunner of a show intended for Black people to have a platform to address white people tell a Black comic when a joke crosses the line? Chappelle’s career has been about pushing the envelope and creating a space where everyone is celebrated (and roasted).
The outrage against Chappelle’s joke is understandable. What is not is the attempt to take Chappelle’s career away. In defense of Chappelle, a family of a former trans friend and Comedian of Chappelle’s Daphne Dorman came to his defense, arguing that Dorman understood that Chappelle was an LGBTQI+ ally and that she did not find Chappelle’s comedy “offensive.” What is so off-putting about this situation is that there is a duality to Chappelle’s approach. Off-stage, he is known to be an ally of the trans community; however, on stage, he has made transphobic jokes. Hastings’s statement is correct in the sense that Chappelle has the freedom to say anything within reason that will not offend the overwhelming majority of people. The overwhelming popularity of Chappelle’s work, regardless of the joke, shows that his comedy is still being celebrated. It is up to the individual to decide what they will consume.
Chappelle is not afraid to step into controversy. He was one of the first comedians to call out R. Kelly’s sexual tendencies and illegal behavior years before Kelly’s conviction for sexual crimes against minors. Chappelle had a show named after him, where he performed skits and invited Neo-Soul artists such as Erykah Badu to perform. In 2006, Chappelle ended his show and went on a hiatus, announcing a deal with Netflix in 2016. Chappelle said this will be his last comedy special for Netflix “for a while,” which might mean that we may not see him in the public eye any time soon, given this controversy.
Melanie Moyer '22,